Russia accuses EU states of flouting visa deal

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MOSCOW, Oct 24 (Reuters) Some European Union states are flouting a deal with Russia on travel visas, a Kremlin official said today, adding a new irritant to troubled EU-Russian relations days before a key summit.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Russian President Vladimir Putin's chief adviser on EU-Russian relations, said countries including France, Belgium and the Netherlands were not respecting an EU-wide deal designed to streamline the issuing of travel visas.

Yastrzhembsky told reporters Russia would take ''retaliatory measures'' if the problem was not resolved. He did not specify what those might be.

The visa deal has been trumpeted as a rare bright spot in relations between Moscow and the bloc that have been beset by rows over trade, energy, Russia's human rights record and the future of Serbia's Kosovo province.

Yastrzhembsky said the EU states were charging Russians seeking to travel to Europe more for their visas than the price set out in the agreement, and that the waiting time for the documents was excessive.

''We categorically cannot agree with this. It is a violation of the agreement,'' said Yastrzhembsky.

''Today, for now, we have not taken corresponding retaliatory measures ... but if we see this has gone down a dead-end then, sooner or later in diplomacy, you move to retaliatory measures.

No one wants that.'' ''If so far we have not taken any retaliatory measures, that means we do not want to dramatise the situation. We have been signalling (our concern) on the bilateral level. Possibly that was not enough.'' ''Now we are signalling on the EU level since it is an EU agreement. If that does not work then we will move to retaliatory measures,'' he said.

Yastrzhembsky said the issue was likely to come up this week when Putin meets EU leaders at a summit in Portugal on Friday.

European diplomats say there have been problems implementing the visa agreement. They say though that is because they have been struggling to cope with the growing numbers of Russians applying for visas.

EU citizens applying for visas to travel to Russia often have to go through burdensome bureaucratic procedures, and the fees can be high.

Reuters AK VP0338

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